Musical High Note

Comox Valley musician Brodie Dawson makes her mark on the Island music scene, and beyond

Winning the Vocal Performance of the Year honors for 2014 at the Vancouver Island Music Awards “was a beautiful feather in my cap, <a href=

viagra ” says Brodie Dawson, ailment performing onstage at this year’s Filberg Festival. “It took me to the next stage.” Photo courtesy Kirk Friederich Photography” src=”×498.jpg” width=”602″ height=”498″ /> Winning the Vocal Performance of the Year honors for 2014 at the Vancouver Island Music Awards “was a beautiful feather in my cap, advice ” says Brodie Dawson, performing onstage at this year’s Filberg Festival. “It took me to the next stage.” Photo courtesy Kirk Friederich Photography

It is not easy being a musician anywhere these days, what with CD sales plummeting and fewer record deals to go around. But surely things are even worse for an artist trying to eke out a career in a community like the Comox Valley, which is somewhat removed from any music industry hub?

“I think it can go both ways and there are benefits and challenges to both situations,” says Brodie Dawson, an indie folk singer-songwriter who currently resides in Cumberland. “In the cities there are far more musicians and it’s not as much of a community. However, there are more people to play for in the cities. In the Valley there are also plenty of places to play music. There is such a supportive artistic community and the musicians are like a family.”

And Dawson is used to being involved in a musical family. Her father, Brent Dawson, was a successful soul/blues musician who helped to form the grassroots core of the Hamilton, Ontario music scene. That meant she joined in the rehearsals in the basement and sang along. However, it wasn’t until she was in her 20s that she began to perform in front of an audience, her first live performance being in Campbell River when she opened for Juno Award winner Ray Bonneville.

“I’d done a lot of contests and karaoke, stuff like that, but never really taking it seriously,” Dawson says. “I had a musical partner then, in Campbell River. So we moved to Montreal to pursue this career. That’s where I started my first CD. We did all of the writing and recording there.”

Unfortunately, her relationship with her first partner ended just before they completed the CD. Dawson decided to go with a friend on a road trip up to Yellowknife. She never did return to Montreal as she ended up staying in the Northwest Territories for a couple of years. That meant the CD got put on the back burner.

“I was in a girl band in Yellowknife,” Dawson says. “There were six of us. We called ourselves the Woodyard Crew. That was a lot of fun. Then I moved down to the Island. I had some family issues, so I didn’t play quite as much music. I only really got back into it during the last three or four years.”

It was at this time, a time when she was getting serious about a musical career again, that she decided to release the CD that she had first started in Montreal back in 2001. But there was a problem—the master had gotten lost somewhere along the way.

“We recorded it in analog, on a reel-to-reel,” she explains. “There’s a really cool studio in Montreal called Hotel 2 Tango. A lot of bands like Arcade Fire and Godspeed You! Black Emperor have recorded there. It’s a funky old building and they do a lot of reel-to-reel. But I lost the master—in all the moves I just couldn’t find it. All I had was this thin (mp3) recording of it.

“So I brought it to Corwin Fox here in Cumberland. He’s a behind-the-scenes genius. He’s a musician in his own right, but he’s done a lot of production work. Very well respected. I only had a copy of the master, and when you do copies you lose sound quality. It just becomes thinner and thinner. But Corwin worked magic on it, he brought back the warmth. We’d done the mixing in Montreal, but we hadn’t done the mastering process. So I gave this thin copy to Corwin to do the mastering. We added some solos and some backing vocals with musicians I’d worked with here, so it was kind of like marrying my old life and my new life, which was pretty cool. And that was it—it didn’t need much. I added some percussion and we cut out some material. Then Corwin did the mastering process. It all only took a couple of days in his studio and it was done!”

The resulting CD is a mix of soulful folky blues with a gospel funk, a twist of pop and a twang of old-school country. Fittingly titled The Lost Tapes, it was released in August 2012. Following the release Dawson embarked on a number of tours throughout BC with her friend from Yellowknife, Tracy Riley, and also Biz Oliver from Montreal. Along the way her music has been earning her accolades, including the Vocal Performance of the Year honors for 2014 at the Vancouver Island Music Awards.

“That was a beautiful feather in my cap,” says Dawson proudly. “It took me to the next stage. Now we are playing a number of festivals, such as the Yellowknife (Folk on the Rocks) Music Festival and Sunfest (Country Music Festival) in Duncan.”

Dawson also feels fortunate to have been selected to play at the Filberg Festival this past summer. The line-up this time out was different from the trio that toured earlier in the year, with Christy Vanden on guitar, Darryl Milne on bass, Blaine Dunaway on violin, chincello and fugle horn and Bob Grant on drums and occasional trumpet. Not only was it a beautiful venue with a great vibe but it also turned out to be one of the most enjoyable performances of Dawson’s career.

“We had such a good time!” she says enthusiastically. “We closed the day on Sunday. The day was perfect, the weather was amazing. They’ve just built a new stage, it’s lovely. It’s cedar with really professional lights, great sound, wooden beams and a gorgeous backdrop. The crowd was really supportive. We even had a bit of a line-up later for CD signings.”

Things are not only picking up for Dawson, they are getting downright hectic. In addition to the Filberg Festival she also played at Nautical Days and then she headed down Island to play the Coombs Fair and at the Tour de Rock Cops for Cancer festivities in Qualicum. In a few weeks a more pared-down line-up of just herself and Vanden on guitar will appear at Habitat for Humanity fundraiser in Campbell River and the Lighthouse Country Fall Fair in Qualicum.

With the addition of Dunaway, the trio will then perform at the Harvest Festival at the Serenity Performing Arts Centre in Clearwater, the First Tuesday Fundraiser at the Mex Pub in Courtenay and Culture Days in Victoria.

“And I do have a day job,” Dawson says with a laugh. “Yes, it’s been busy, but it’s good. I’ve just hired a new social media director, so that takes some of the load off.”
So, where do things go from here? Although she plans to do a little touring, Dawson intends to focus more on recording some new music over the fall and winter months.

“Actually, a lot of the songs I want to record are old,” she says. “One of the best songs I have right now is 10 years old. It’s one that I used to do back in Yellowknife with the all-girl band. We are already performing these new songs live, so I just want to get them out there.”

She plans on doing things a little differently on this second album. First of all, she’d like to try a variety of studios to explore different sounds. Furthermore, she will not be using analog recording methods on this album, as much fun as it was on the first CD.

“Hotel 2 Tango is this big warehouse,” she recalls. “Big high ceilings—a real old warehouse with a train going by now and then. It was a wonderful experience. It had nice acoustics. But using reel-to-reel took way too long. You have to keep rewinding it all the time, so it takes four times as long. I will definitely do it digitally this time!”

Dawson is at a loss to even identify a genre to pin on her new music, much less come up with any theme. She considers this new set-list a ‘ride’ through different categories.
“Yeah, jazzy,” says Dawson. “There are some that are funky. There are some that are country. Bluegrass and folk. As far as any theme, the first CD was about me and finding my way. I was young. It was ‘me’ focused, a bit of a confessional CD. These new songs are more life-based, about letting go and going with the flow. There’s also a little more lightness and humor to these songs.”

Dawson admits that as an unsigned, solo performer it is not easy to get a CD out. Although the new songs are all written and ready to go, she needs funding to move forward. One option is to put out singles, one by one, as a sort of ‘pay as you go’ scheme. Another option is to do a four or five song EP first, but she still isn’t ruling out the possibility of simply putting out the whole album in one shot.

Regardless of how things pan out, Dawson considers herself lucky to be a performer in the Comox Valley, which she says is supportive of live music and the arts in general.
“I feel so held by this community,” she says. “It’s like a family. Yellowknife was like that too, but other places I’ve lived have so much competition. Everyone is out for themselves.

“Here there is so much loving, and I don’t think it’s naïve to say that. And there’s the beauty of it all—the mountains, the forests, the beaches. It’s inspiring in so many ways.”

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